I’m going out on a limb a little bit here because a) everyone else ranks Manny Banuelos as the best prospect in the system, for understandable reasons, and, b) Sanchez’s stock is down after an up-and-down season at Low-A Charleston, but I’m still a big believer in Sanchez’s potential, and think he represents the best mix of high ceiling talent with the potential to reach that ceiling at the top of the system. Sanchez displays advanced power and patience for a hitter his age, but he does struggle with breaking balls, and struck at a rate of slightlthan once every four at bats. That’s not good even for a hitter with the power and discipline combination Sanchez has shown, but I’m banking Sanchez will learn to better handle non-fastballs as he moves up the minor league ladder and gets an opportunity to adjust his swing a bit. Much like Montero, Sanchez displays dubious skills behind the plate, as his strong arm is held back by his very poor receiving. Sanchez led the South Atlantic League with 26 passed balls in 2011, and reportedly stopped calling for breaking balls altogether due to his difficulty with handling them. That’s not a good sign.
Of course, the knock on Sanchez in 2011 was his so-called attitude problem. Sanchez didn’t handle struggling early in the season very well, and was ultimately sent back to extended Spring Training for disciplinary reasons. He did, however, hit quite well after returning to Charleston, and as long as there’s not a significant repeat offense, I’m always going to give a kid as young as Sanchez the benefit of the doubt when they struggle with maturity issues. If the worst thing you can say about a prospect with as much upside as Sanchez has at 18 years of age is that he didn’t necessarily handle his first real adversity in his professional career with the highest level of professionalism before the organization stepped in to give him some (firm) guidance, I’m as willing to put my money down on that ballplayer’s future as I am anyone else on this list.
2. Manny Banuelos LHP:
Banuelos comes in at second on my list, but he’s otherwise the consensus top prospect in the system. The young lefty tantalized us all with a strong showing last spring before being sent back to minor league camp, and he already possesses a knock out change up he can throw to lefties and righties effectively, but the rising walk rate since hitting the high minors concerns me. The Yankees promoted him to Triple-A last year despite a 12.3 BB% (4.9 BB/9), and he put up nearly identical rates in his 34.1 AAA innings. He’s not falling apart, by any means, as his strikeout numbers are still good and scouts like his stuff (though I don’t know that he truly has the ceiling of a staff ace), but it is something he’ll have to get under control before he can even think about becoming a front of the rotation major league starter. There’s been speculation that Banuelos could make his MLB debut this year, but I’m not sure it would come before September. He logged a career high in innings pitched last year at just 129.2, so one thing he needs to work on is getting deeper into games and carrying a bigger load as a starter.
3. Mason Williams CF:
Williams burst onto the radar this winter thanks to a spectacular season with short-season Staten Island in which the young outfielder hit .349/.395/.468 and stole 28 bases. Scouts rave about his speed, which allows him to cover a lot of ground in the outfield, and his hands, but if there’s one thing lacking in his game it’s power, something he may not really develop given his small frame. That could be a problem as he climbs through the ranks and faces pitchers challenging him with better stuff, but he’ll be fine if the hit tool is legiT. Williams will get his first taste of full-season ball at Low-A Charleston this year, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Yankees aggressively promote him if he gets off to a good start in 2012. He might be young and several levels away from the majors, but it’s easy to begin dreaming about the Yankees having their centerfielder of the future here.
4. Dellin Betances RHP:
Betances managed to stay healthy for a full season in 2011, addressing one of his major question marks, but unfortunately he didn’t find a way to limit the number of free passes he issued opposing batters. Betances walked 5.0 batters per nine innings (12.6% of all batters faces) between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, including issuing 15 walks in just 21 Triple-A innings. The lack of control has been a theme in Betances’ minor league career, and it’s lead to increasing chatter that his long-term future may be in the bullpen. His power fastball and hammer curve would definitely play well there, and I think the case could be made that Betances has the highest floor of any of the top four prospects listed here, so long as he can remain healthy. The Yankees are going to give him every opportunity to prove that he can start, and it’s not as though it’s impossible to be a relatively successful pitcher while issuing a high amount of walks (Gio Gonzalez was one of the offseason’s hottest commodities, after all), but it requires getting a good number of groundballs and limiting extra base hits as well, something that’s not all that easy to do in the offense heavy A.L. East.
5. Jose Campos RHP:
The other player the Yankees got in return for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi, Campos is anything but an afterthought. Baseball America named him the third best prospect in the Northwest League after a fantastic performance that included some staggering peripherals: 9.4 K/9 to just 1.4 BB/9. Campos lives with his fastball at this point, a pitch that Campos can pound the strikezone with while sitting in the mid-90′s, but he’s got a curveball and changeup in the works. He’s tall and skinny and throws a ton of strikes. He’s also given good marks for his makeup, a trait the Yankees seem increasingly focused on when it comes to their young players. He’ll likely head to Charleston to begin the season.
6. Dante Bichette Jr. 3B:
The Yankees surprised just about everyone when they selected Bichette with their first pick in the 2011 draft, but he quickly proved there was a method behind the madness. Bichette hit a scorching .342/.446/.505 en route to being named MVP of the Gulf Coast League. Just as importantly, he surprised a lot of people with his sound defensive play at the hot corner. Where a move to a corner outfield position was once thought a likely outcome for Bichette, there’s now a pretty good chance he can remain at third and provide solid defense there. Bichette displays an advanced approach to hitting, plus power, and, by all accounts, fantastic makeup. If he continues to hold his own at third base, don’t be surprised if he’s a fast riser through the system, at which point he’ll inevitably be deemed the successor to A-Rod by many.
7. Austin Romine C:
Often overshadowed by the bat-first catching prospects the Yankees have throughout the system, Romine now looks like he may have the best chance of claiming the position long term in the Bronx, especially given that the Bombers’ appear to be putting a renewed emphasis on defensive skills behind the plate. Romine struggles to throw out baserunners due to problems with his arm accuracy, but he has good arm strength, and his receiving skills are sound. He hasn’t done much to wow anyone with his bat, but scouts report that he has above average raw power, it just hasn’t played well in games. That’s the sort of report that makes you wonder if a hitting coach like Kevin Long couldn’t bring out with the right mechanical fix to Romine’s swing. With Jesus Montero no longer blocking him, Romine will start the season with Triple-A Scarntion-Wilkes Barre, and may have the most to gain this season of anyone in the system. With Russell Martin ticketed to free agency at the end of the season, a strong showing by Romine this year could make him the early favorite for the starting catching job in the Bronx in 2012.
8. J.R. Murphy C/3B/OF:
Another of the Yankees’ bat-first catchers, Murphy actually outhit Sanchez across the full season at Low-A Charleston before being promoted to High-A Tampa where an errant foul ball broke his foot and ended his season early. Murphy increased his odds of remaining behind the plate by improving his arm strength and release time, though Baseball America describes his receiving and blocking skills as merely fringy. The Yankees have also given Murphy playing time at third base and will likely give him a chance to play the corner outfield as well, though at present he doesn’t really profile as a long term option at either of those positions based on his power. Murphy’s a good athlete and solid young player, but his biggest obstacle may prove to be the other guys at his position in the system unless he can improve his ability to hit for power and/or play plus defense somewhere.
9. Ravel Santana OF:
Santana was one of the harder players on this list to rank, for me. His potential is tremendous, and he has all of the tools you could want in a 19 year old. Scouts rave about his bat speed and natural power swing. His offensive upside is significant, and thus far he’s a career .286/.396/496 hitter in 632 minor league plate appearances. He’s also a plus runner and plays an above average centerfield with a 70-80 arm, which makes it nearly impossible to not find yourself dreaming of him forming a center-right combination of the future with Mason Williams. Baseball America ranked him as the number two prospect in the Gulf Coast League last season, behind fellow Yankee farmhand Dante Bichette. As far as pure talent and upside goes, I’d very much consider moving Santana into the top five here, but he’s never played above rookie ball, and his 2011 season ended with a severe ankle injury that saw the 19 year old break his ankle in two places and suffer ligament damage. That’s scary stuff for someone a youngster like Santana, and how he recovers could be one of the bigger stories of the season for the Yankees’ farm system. If he’s healthy, he’ll head to short-season Staten Island this season, and a good performance there could lead to a Williams-esque breakout this time next year.
10. Ramon Flores OF:
Flores is a very advanced hitter for someone his age, and led the entire system in walks in 2011 with 61. That patience also allows him to have good in-game power (11 home runs at Charleston in 2011), though he’ll need to continue to develop in that area to be a viable big leaguer in the long term, as below average arm strentgh and speed make him profile as a left-fielder long term. The potential is definitely there, however, given his great discipline and batting eye if Flores can pack on some muscle as he grows. Flores should start the season with High-A Tampa.
11. Adam Warren RHP:
Warren finds himself in no-mans land these days, so to speak. A fairly polished hurler with 344 career minor league innings and consecutive seasons above 135 innings pitched under his belt, Warren is ready to contribute to the big league team right now if need be. Unfortunately (for him), the Yankees don’t have a need for him at the moment, and Warren is, at best, the seventh starter on the depth chart right now, though the fact that he’s not on the 40-man roster while David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell are likely means he’s even lower than that barring injuries. Warren will likely spend another full season at Triple-A, where he posted a 6.6 K/9 and 3/1 BB/9 in 152.1 innings last season, though I think there’s a strong chance he finds himself in the majors if the Yankees need more than a spot start or two over the summer.
12. Angelo Gumbs 2B:
This might be an aggressive ranking for Gumbs, who just turned 19 years old this past October and is still very raw, but his .264/.332/.406 slash line in 220 plate appearances with Staten Island last season is impressive for someone that young, and his athleticism is off the charts. And if you think I’m crazy, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus considers Gumbs one of the Yankees five best prospects. Right now his biggest problem is his lack of discipline at the plate, but that’s not the worst problem someone this young and raw could have at this stage of their development, especially when it comes with a solid swing that produces a lot of line drives. Parks relays that Gumbs draws questions about his makeup based on his visible displays of emotion on the field, but that’s the sort of thing that tends to be judged based on performance more than anything. If you don’t play well, you’re “immature,” but if you’re producing you’re “fiery.” Heck, if you’re Chris Carpenter you can berate teammates and opponents in the middle of the field and people will call it playing the game the right way. Gumbs will probably start the season in Low-A Charleston, and how he handles full season ball will say a lot about where he ranks on this list next year.
13. Slade Heathcott OF:
The Yankees got Heathcott with their unprotected compensation pick for failing to sign Gerrit Cole in 2009, and it’s safe to say the beginning of his professional career hasn’t gone according to plan. Heathcott has produced when on the field (.271/.342/.419 in 237 plate appearances at Low-A Charleston last season), but health has been a major concern, as Heathcott surgery on his shoulder for the second time in 2011. Heathcott grades as a plus defender in center field with plus-plus speed and tremendous athleticism, but it remains to be seen how injuries will affect his arm strength, and a move to left-field is definitely a possibility. Heathcott has legitimate offensive upside if he can refine his hitting approach, and if it weren’t for the shoulder problems, he’d almost certainly be in the top ten (Baseball America has him ranked as the Yankees’ 10th best prospect). This is perhaps too bearish of a ranking for someone with the tools and upside Heathcott possesses, but two shoulder operations is certainly cause for concern.
14. Tyler Austin 1B/3B:
Austin put on a show in 2011, hitting a combined .354/.418/.579 over 201 plate appearances between the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn leagues. That’s pretty impressive, especially when you consider that he broke his wrist in 2010. Austin’s a very refined hitter with good patience and plate discipline and plus power. He hits to all fields, though most of his power is to his pull side. Defensively he’s primarily played third base, but as he figures to play with Bichette at Low-A Charleston this year a move to first base or the corner outfield would seem to be in the cards. Keith Law listed him as the Yankees’ best “sleeper” prospect.
15. David Phelps RHP:
Once again, I find myself somewhat bearish on one of the Yankees’ low-ceiling but big league ready starters. Phelps lost some of his 2011 season to shoulder tendinitis, but to post a solid 7.5 K/9 and 3.46 K;BB ratio before going to the Arizona Fall League where he held his own in the offense heavy environment. The ability to avoid walks is a huge benefit to him as a back of the rotation type of talent, but his average at best array of secondary pitches likely limits his ceiling. He’s just shy of 500 career minor league innings, and he was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule V draft this winter, so he’s likely first in line for a call up if the big league rotation needs reenforcements.
16. Corban Joseph 2B:
Joseph spent 2011 playing for Double-A Trenton, appearing in 131 games. He hit .277/.353/.415/.768 with 38 doubles, eight triples and five homers. He is a student of hitting, spending a lot of time watching video and working on his swing. A fairly patient hitter at the plate, with good bat speed and an ability to hit to all fields, Joseph’s power is just average for a middle infielder. He is slower than you would expect and appears to lack some base running IQ, getting bad jumps and misreading pitchers’ pickoff moves. While Joseph used to be a suspect defensive prospect, he has continued to show a lot of improvement at second base. He is reading the ball off the bat better and has a strong arm, though he will need to keep working on his defense as illustrated by his 23 errors this season.
17. Cito Culver SS:
The Yankees’ top draft pick of 2010, Cito Culver, spent this past season with Staten Island. He hit .250/.323/.337/.660 over 69 games and stole ten bases, never getting caught. Culver scored 40 runs, while knocking 33 in. This pick has perplexed some people, but the New York native has shown some good stuff in his short time in pro ball. Culver has good potential at the plate, and with a strong work ethic he continues to refine his swing. He is a switch hitter, but this season he struggled from the left side, hitting just .224 as opposed to .324 from the right side. Culver has good speed and base running instincts. His defense has been one of his most praised tools, as his speed gives him nice range and he has a strong arm.
18. Brett Marshall RHP:
Fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery he had back in 2010, Marhsall logged 140 innings pitched at High-A Tampa. A groundball pitcher with good sink to his fastball, Marshall profiles a lot like a smaller version of Ivan Nova, with similar peripherals to the breakout pitching sensation of 2011. He figures to spend this year in Double-A Trenton, and he’s Rule V eligible at the end of the season, so a strong showing will force the Yankees to consider adding him to the 40-man roster or risk losing him to another organization.
19. D.J. Mitchell RHP:
Going 13-9 with a 3.18 ERA in Scranton, D.J. Mitchell seems to be ready for his chance in the majors at any moment. He threw 161.1 innings in Triple-A this season, picking up 112 strikeouts and allowing just 63 walks. Mitchell can struggle with his command, but he has four well-developed pitches. He is a sinkerball pitcher, but his four-seamer is also an effective pitch. Mitchell throws both a curve and changeup with lots of movement. Mitchell has the ceiling of a middle of the rotation starter, but he has shown the ability to throw out of the bullpen as well, giving him some nice versatility.
20. Zoilo Almonte OF:
Almonte has been steadily climbing through the system since 2009, and last season was no exception. He hit .293/.368/.514 296 plate appearances at High-A Tampa before being promoted to Double-A, where he struggled a bit in just under 200 plate appearances. A switch hitter with solid power from both sides, Almonte also displays good plate discipline ( a career BB% of 8.8% and a 10.47% mark in Tampa last year) and a polished hitting approach. The Yankees added him to the 40-man roster this winter to protect him from the Rule V draft. He’ll start the season in Double-A but likely be a candidate for a mid-season promotion to Triple-A, and a September call up to the big leagues isn’t out of the question either.
21. Bryan Mitchell RHP:
Mitchell is the biggest wild card on this list. His pure stuff is probably second only to Betances’, with a fastball that sits in the mid 90′s and can be run up to 98 MPH with excellent movement. He’s also got a plus curveball and a nascent changeup, but to say he struggles with hislocation is an understatement (4.52 walks per nine innings at short-season Staten Island last year). He’ll get bumped up to full season ball this year, and the focus will most certainly be on repeating his delivery and controlling his pitches. If he learns to harness that raw ability, the sky is the limit for Mitchell, but that’s far from a certainty at this point. For what it’s worth, whenever I read a scouting report on Mitchell I can’t help but think of A.J. Burnett.
22. Mark Montgomery RHP:
Montgomery burst onto the scene in his first pro season with a ridiculous 41% strikeout rate (16.2 K/9) in 26 games between Staten Island and Charleston. He’s got a good fastball that sits in the low 90′s, but his bread and butter is a plus slider that misses a ton of bats. His walk rate isn’t great (4.1 BB/9), but that’s okay for a reliever with that kind of strikeout ability. Montgomery’s only going on his second professional season, and his his first full season of competition, but the comparison to David Robertson is impossible to miss.
23. Nik Turley LHP:
Turley had arguably the biggest breakout of any pitcher in the system in 2011, pitching to a 2.51 ERA and striking out 82 batters in 82.1 innings at Low-A Charleston before taking a line drive off of his pitching hand in his second start at Tampa. Turley is a big lefty with a weak fastball that will sit around 90 MPH, but it gets added effectiveness thanks to his solid changeup and plus curveball. Turley is another pitcher that will become Rule V eligible after the season, but may be a good candidate to be left exposed, as it seems unlikely that he’d stick on a 25 man roster in 2013. If he can earn a midseason call up to Double-A and pitch well there, however, that calculus might change considerably.
24. David Adams 2B:
Adams started 2010 hitting .309/.393/.507/.900 in Trenton, but his season was cut short when he broke his ankle. Ongoing trouble with his ankle kept him limited in 2011, where he split 29 rehab appearances between the GCL and the Tampa Yankees, hitting .370/.421/.509/.931. Getting shut down again in early August, he admits that he still doesn’t feel “normal” and while the ankle isn’t painful, his flexibility is fairly limited. Adams is a patient hitter, who could be a .300 hitter with a little power in the majors. He is not particularly fast, but is surprisingly smart and aggressive on the bases. Much like Corban Joseph, Adams was initially a suspect defensive prospect, but he has made great strides at second. Adams may not stand out in any one area, but he should be a solid all-around major league infielder if he can get his ankle healthy.
25. Brandon Laird 3B/1B:
Laird was a much hotter commodity last year after hitting .291/.355/.523 for Double-A Trenton and being named MVP of the Eastern League, but so far he hasn’t figured Triple-A out at all, hitting just .257/.284/.406 with 111 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 616 plate appearances there the past season and a half. He’s an extremely aggressive hitter with a long swing, which leads to his high strikeout numbers, but his raw power is real, and he’s capable of hitting any ball he gets a hold of a very long way. His defense has improved somewhat, so if Eric Chavez gets hurt in Spring Training he’ll likely get a chance to make the team as a reserve, but otherwise he’ll head back to Triple-A, where he’ll need to work on his plate discipline and swing mechanics if he’s going to amount to anything more than a big league bench player, if that, in the long run.
26. Graham Stoneburner RHP:
After working his way through Charleston and Tampa in 2010, Graham Stoneburner had hoped to continue his march to the majors this season. He started in Trenton, but was sidelined for much of the year with a neck injury, eventually leading to a couple rehab stints with GCL and Tampa. Stoneburner ended the year in Trenton, where he made eleven starts and had a 4.17 ERA. His strikeout per nine innings ratio dropped quite a bit, from 8.7 in 2010 to 5.6 with the Thunder. Stoneburner is a power pitcher who will strikeout batters. His power sinker is a true plus pitch, and he has good command over both his fastballs. He has struggled with consistency in his secondary pitches, though on any given day his slider or changeup can be another great weapon for the young hurler.
27. Rob Segedin 3B/OF:
Segedin started 2011 in Charleston, where he was a big offensive presence for the RiverDogs, hitting .323/.396/.482/.878 over 61 games. Segedin then got bumped up to Tampa, where he went .245/.311/.309/.619 over 52 games before heading to the Arizona Fall League. A patient hitter, he works counts and waits for his pitch, driving a lot of hits to the opposite field. He can swipe a few bases, but is not particularly fast. Segedin was drafted as a third baseman, but has played some outfield as well. He has good hands and a strong arm, but needs to continue to work on his positioning to become a better than average defensive prospect.
28. Chase Whitley RHP:
A fairly non-intimidating reliever, Whitley doesn’t have an impressive fastball, but what he lacks in overpowering stuff he makes up for with a solid three pitch arsenal and a good groundball percentage. A fast riser through the system, Whitley made 19 appearncces at Double-A Trenton in his second professional season before appearing in the Arizona Fall League. His peripherals are attractive (8.9 K/9 and 3.31 K:BB in his career), though there was a rather large discrepancy between his 12.1 K/9 in 2010 and 7.6 mark last year. Whitley figures to start the season at Double-A and could get a midseason promotion to Triple-A.
29. Ben Gamel OF:
The younger brother of Brewers’ farm-hand Mat Gamel, Ben had a very good season for short season Staten Island, hitting .289/.373/.432 in 220 plate appearances with a walk rate of 10.91%. Gamel has good present power, good plate discipline and command of the strikezone, and a solid hit tool, but as a prospect he’s all bat. Below average speed, glove work, and arm strength relegate him to left field, but if he continues to hit that won’t matter. Gamel will join prospect rich Low-A Charleston to start the season.
30. Cesar Cabral LHP:
The Yankees selected Cabral in the Rule V draft from Boston’s organization, and with an open spot in the bullpen and the Yankees always talking about potentially carrying a second left-handed pitcher, there’s a fairly good chance he makes the Opening Day roster. On the other hand, he’s a two-time Rule V selection, meaning that he can opt for free agency rather than return to his original team, so there’s also the possibility that he becomes a free agent and stays with the Yankees as a minor leaguer on the 40 man roster. His best secondary offering is his changeup, however, making him somewhat unconventional for a left-handed specialist. He’ll get a good look in camp, but my guess is that if the Yankees want a second lefty in the bullpen they’ll go for one with more of a proven track record against big league lefties like Cla Rapada. If Cabral can find a team willing to give him a big league bullpen spot, that’s where he’ll be this season, but if he stays in the Yankees’ organization he’d be solid depth for the bullpen carousel.
- The top ten is a lot more balanced by age than I thought it would be. By my count, there are three prospects (Williams, Campos, and Bichette), who will start the season at Low-A Charleston, three (Sanchez, Murphy, and Flores) and who will start at High-A Tampa, three (Banuelos, Betances, and Romine) who will start at Triple-A Scranton, and one (Santana) who will start at short season Staten Island.
- For what it’s worth, Jesus Montero and Gerritt Cole would be numbers one and two on this list if they were in the system today. Arodys Vizcaino would probably fall between Williams and Betances, in my opinion.
- There’s a noticeable gap in the system at Double-A.
- Given how much the Yankees have raved about Williams and Bichette, it will be interesting to see how aggressive they are with their development if they perform well early in the season. The Yankees seem to be somewhat conservative with their prospects in their first year of full season ball, with Jesus Montero, J.R. Murphy, all spending at least one full season at Charleston before being promoted, but Romine and Murphy didn’t necessarily light the world on fire at the time, and Montero had defensive questions that probably aren’t there for Bichette and, especially, Williams. I’d guess that they spend all year in Charleston, but it would be exciting to see them climb even higher if they repeat their 2011 performances early in 2012.